Attract Wildlife to Your Backyard with a Bird (Squirrel?) Feeder
Evolution of a Backyard Feeder
For years I watched the wildlife in and around my yard without intervening; but to save a displaced chipmunk family I started putting out food. Soon, the word was out and I'm now up to four feeders that I fill twice a day.
I have lived in the same house nearly 20 years now - a neighborhood that was once an oak forest, and is still well-wooded with trees, and backs to an undeveloped wooded area around the lake. Due to the nature of the area, I have always had furred and feathered forest friends (try saying that three time fast) passing through the yard; and I enjoyed watching them and snapping an occasional picture. I never really thought about bothering to feed them since there were plenty of acorns and such for them to eat, but that changed the year we put in a pool.
Originally from a warmer clime, I missed having a pool and even if northern Virgina doesn't have lots of days out of the year when it's useful, I think it's nice to have one. Anyway, in digging the hole, the installer disrupted a chipmunk burrow. All the chipmunks escaped unharmed, but the burrow and all the food they stored was gone. (Chipmunks quasi-hybernate in the winter, living off the food they store.) I felt bad as it was way into fall already. (If you want a pool, don't contract for it in the spring thinking you'll get to use it in the summer. By spring the list is full and you're at the bottom.)
The Chips moved to a safer location - away from the pool work and started rebuilding. Animals don't bother to sit around feeling bad about a loss, they just move on and try to survive their new reality. I thought I would help make up for the destruction, so I got some Squirrel Snack (peanuts, corn kernals, and sunflower seeds) and put a pan of it out near Chip's new home. I don't know about gratitude, but the food disappeared pretty quickly. I would fill the pan in the morning and when I got home in the evening, it was empty. Chip came to expect the daily deliveries.
On weekends, I would sleep in, past the time I usually filled the pan. Then downstairs, making my morning coffee, I would see Chip standing on the deck rail - hands on hips (maybe I imagined that) - waiting for breakfast. So, coffeeless, I dutifully went out and filled the pan, Chip running behind me. I wondered how much he was planning to store up and when the burrow would be full enough. Then the birds and the Grays came.
Apparently some of the local denizens noticed that I was putting out free food and decided to help themselves. I'm and equal opportunity feeder and let everyone eat. Although I'm more a "mammal person," I let the birds eat too - unlike "bird people," who go to great lengths to keep squirrels out of their feeder. I had Blue Jays, Cardinals, Doves, Crows, Squirrels, and a host of tiny hoppy birds that cleaned up the scraps. It was getting to be winter and they were pretty fiestly and competitive - so many eating out of one pan. I kept finding the pan moved all over the yard - and sometimes gone entirely. (I wonder what my neighbors thought about finding a strange pie pan in their yard.) So, first I tried tieing it with a string, then I broke down and bought a proper feeder - a cute red schoolhouse.
This worked better, but even then, the feeder would be moved all over the yard and disassembled. I had to go looking under bushes, etc. to find all the pieces, reassemble the feeder, then refill it. That got old, so I screwed the feeded to an old log and ran a cable through the base, center, and lid. This worked well. Now the feeder - all the parts were where I left them the day before. Also, I got a hanging feeder - that presented it's own issues.
Here Come the Racoons
I was up to about twenty gray squirrels and flocks of birds, so I had to fill the feeder morning and evening. And the Grays were even more persistent than Chip - lining the deck rails in the morning if I slept in.
It became a bit costly to feed the whole neighborhood. I was buying ten pound bags of food at the grocery and they'd go through that in a day. Every shopping day, I cleaned the store out of all they had. And if they were out of Squirrel Snack, I ended up with even more expensive varieties of peanut and sunflower mixes. I decided to look for another source.
Feed stores like I knew at home (my parents have a farm in Florida), were scarce in suburban Virgina. I had to travel a bit, but did find one that sold peanuts, sunflower seeds, and Squirrel Snack in larger quanties at better prices. So I loaded up the van (to make the trip worth while). This worked okay until one evening, just at dusk, I saw two racoons come over the fence and wipe out the contents of the feeder.
Recreational Feeders = Broken Feeders
We were statis quo for a while. Kept having to replace the wire on the tree-mounted feeder because the racoons were using it as playgound equipment, swinging back and forth on it until the wire would snap. I put heavier wire on, plus a couple boards to make a better standing platforms, so they wouldn't feel the need to swing. (They still swing, but the heavier line is holding.)
Then the added dog food attracted a fox or two. I was worried, but they seem to eat side by side with the racoons and ignore each other. Squirrels and birds during the daylight hours, racoons and foxes at night though the winter.
Winter at the Feeders
Spring = Pool and Babies and More
Spring came and we opened the pool. I was worried. One morning I was dressing and saw a chipmunk running along the coping and drop right in. I ran downstairs in my underwear to save him. Ordered a Scamper Ramp the same day to make to pool safe for the critters. The racoons loved the pool - washing their hands in it, etc. They didn't really need the ramp, they found the stairs and were big enough to manage. Racoons love water and are good swimmers. The squirrels appreciated the ramp more, stepping gingerly out onto it to drink from the pool. Life was good and all the backyard population happy.... So happy in fact, the racoons brought their babies - teaching them where the food and water was. Yikes!
We had ten racoon babies that year - one litter of six, one litter of four. They were so cute and fuzzy at first, and very shy. The kids would come and eat, the moms would watch from the shadows. One night I stepped out, scared one of the babies - it squeeked and mom came running. Okay, mothers are incredibly protective, so more feeders to keep everyone separate and safe. The Chips woke up - hungry. Baby gray squirrels came out. I accquired a pair of flying squirrels, too. Very cute and very shy. So we were now the go-to place for free snacks.
Two and a half years later, I still have the four feeders. I have to replace them or parts of them regularly due to wear and tear. I fill them twice a day - Squirrel Snack and dry dog food, half and half. Plus I put out all leftovers - to cut cost and provide a little variety. Everyone loves stale bread. Racoons will eat nearly anything. No one likes lettuce. With the legally required fence around the yard to protect kids from the pool, the rabbits can't get in any more - everyone else can climb or scurry through holes. So, any lettuce I put out just rots. I have to put my leafy leftovers outside the fence for the rabbits to get.
So, if you want more wildlife in your yard, just put some food out. The critters will find it. They do cause damage, and some mess. But they are great entertainment. I wanted to add a video to the end of this Hub, but you can't add video to an existing Hub, you have to start with the video and build the Hub around it, so, check the next Hub for video.